Masterminds

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”)
Written by: Chris Bowman (“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) Hubbel Palmer (“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) and Emily Spivey (debut)

Whether or not you’ve even seen 2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite,” chances are its self-consciously weird aesthetic has touched your life in one way or another even to this day. Some dipshit you know still exclaims “GOSH!” or wears a “Vote For Pedro” ringer tee. You’ve likely flipped past dozens of copies of the DVD at used bookstores, going for a lowly buck because everyone seemingly owned that DVD at the height of the medium’s powers. That movie (briefly) put its director, Jared Hess, on the map in the mid-2000s. But a stab at the mainstream with “Nacho Libre” and an attempt to recapture the quirk with the awful “Gentlemen Broncos” has left Hess in the clearance bin with “Napoleon Dynamite” with people wondering why anyone liked it in the first place.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Hess’ latest, “Masterminds,” feels like it came from 2005, when the prospect of the director of a weird cult favorite and a cast featuring Owen Wilson was enough to open a movie.

“Masterminds” is said to be based on a true story, wherein a dim-bulb South Carolinian named David Ghant (Zach Galifianakis) works for an armored car company. Even though he’s engaged to be married to Jandice (Kate McKinnon), David is sweet on coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig) and sort-of expresses his feelings toward her when she is fired. After taking up with dirtbag criminal Steve (Owen Wilson), Kelly sees David as the perfect patsy to set up a robbery. Soon, he’s convinced to steal $17 million from the armored car company and flee to Mexico, waiting for Kelly and the rest of the money to arrive when the heat dies down. But since David forgot to take all of the security tapes with him, a hitman hired by Steve (Jason Sudekis) and an FBI agent (Leslie Jones—yes, this movie reunites three of the new Ghostbusters) are on his tail.

Sporting a He-Man bob cut and an effeminate sweet tea accent, Galifianakis feels like he’s trying too hard from the get-go. Gifted at playing a weirdo, the added affectations only distract from the okay-enough humor on display. Some nice moments of absurdity creep in here and there, from Sudekis’ ruthless-turned-affable hitman and an all-too-brief appearance from Ken Marino, on hand for one cheapo (yet effective) visual gag. While never looking to plumb the depths of wood-paneled quirkiness dredged up by “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Masterminds” still wears the influence of that passing fad too proudly on its sleeve.

 

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”)
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”), Nicolás Giacobone (“Biutiful”), Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. (debut) & Armando Bo (“Biutiful”)

As an actor who has donned a mask and cape in a couple of “Batman” films, Michael Keaton knows all about the pitfalls of big franchises and having audiences expect a certain thing from a certain actor. It’s also no secret that as far as high-profile gigs, Keaton’s career has been relatively quiet over the past decade. Perhaps it’s the built-in winking irony of art imitating life that makes Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” so delightfully perfect. Or maybe he’s just that damn good.

After becoming synonymous with the superhero character Birdman that spawned an action movie franchise, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is struggling to get people interested in his first foray into writing, directing and acting in a Broadway play. When an accident happens on stage injuring an actor, his producer suggests they bring aboard enigmatic actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). With just days until the play’s official opening, Riggan tries to handle Mike’s unique acting style, his daughter’s disdain for him and the pressures of the biggest night of his career all while trying to ignore the voice of Birdman inside his head telling him to go back to his blockbuster ways.

To call Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” a career resurgence is an understatement as this is a performance that would send even the most highly regarded actor into the stratosphere. Not only does Keaton get to flex his thespian muscles while performing pieces of the play inside the film (and playing them with different emotions at various times), but he nails Riggan’s off-kilter personality quirks, sinking his teeth into every scene while covering the emotional gamut and displaying impeccable comedic timing. Simply put, Keaton has thrown the Best Actor gauntlet for the upcoming Oscars. But it isn’t just Keaton that shines. Norton goes toe-to-toe in every scene they share, and his exaggerated and hilarious take on the uber serious method actor are among the films funniest moments.

A great thing about “Birdman” is that it exists in the Hollywood world that we live in. This allows for the commentary on film and superhero movie culture to hit a lot harder and have moments such as when a news story plays about Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man. When Keaton’s inner Birdman taunts him about how much better of an actor Riggan is than Downey, it makes a greater comedic impact as a result. The ideas of holding up a mirror to pop culture society go even further, poking fun at critics, the modern culture of celebrities and social media.

Beyond it’s talent on the screen and the fantastic screenplay, “Birdman” is a technical feat that is sure to catch the attention of the audiences senses. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu worked hard to create an entire cinematic atmosphere and the results are astonishing. The film features a score containing solo jazz drumming by Antonio Sanchez that allows the offbeat and kinetic parts of the film, and of Riggan’s personality to be heightened even further. Not to be outdone, Iñárritu employs acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to give the film the look of one continuous take. Though the film itself takes place over the span of a few days, Lubezki seamlessly connects his gorgeous swooping tracking shots creating a final product that might give him his second consecutive Academy Award.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about “Birdman” might be how funny it is. Norton is the highlight in this regard, though really, any time that Keaton and Norton share the screen together it is comedic and cinematic gold. Though the deeper and darker parts of Riggan and his inner Birdman might not be explored to their fullest potential, “Birdman” is still a complete blast, and a fantastic snapshot of a man who can’t get out of the shadow of a character bigger than himself. It’s whip-smart, humorous, well-acted, beautiful to look at and easily among the best films of 2014 thus far.

The Hangover Part III

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “The Hangover Part II”)
Written by: Todd Phillips (“Due Date”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

In a classic episode of “The Simpsons,” the hyper-violent cartoon show enjoyed by Bart and Lisa Simpson, “Itchy & Scratchy,” has begun to fall in the ratings. In an effort to salvage the show, network executives hold a focus group and, based on the answers they receive from viewers, decide what the show needs is a new character to shake things up. And thus Poochie the rockin’ dog with attitude is born. The viewers, however, immediately hate Poochie and the show deteriorates even further. Desperate to stop the bleeding, the executives hastily kill Poochie off, crudely animating his return to his home planet, a journey that ultimately claims his life.

If only the creative team behind the series of “Hangover” films had taken Poochie’s crucifixion to heart, we would have been spared what Ken Jeong’s insufferable Leslie Chow becomes in “The Hangover Part III.”

After the first film in the series went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, sequels were inevitable. When “The Hangover Part II” proved to be little more than a carbon-copy of the original, it was a huge letdown, especially since director Todd Phillips had a blank check with which to push the boundaries of his trademark brand of destruction-filled comedy. Phillips apparently listened to detractors, seeing as how “Part III” is nearly a complete departure from the first two in the series. And not in a good way.

“Part III” opens in a Thai prison in the middle of a riot. As the warden cuts his way through the crowd, it becomes evident that the melee was meant to mask prisoner Leslie Chow’s escape. Meanwhile, eternal man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) loses his father and devolves even further socially. In an effort to help Alan, his fellow members of the Wolfpack, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), agree to escort him to a treatment facility in Arizona. Along the way, though, the group is hijacked by criminal kingpin Marshall (John Goodman) who needs the Wolfpack to track down the man who stole $21 million in gold from him: Leslie Chow.

To say “The Hangover Part III” isn’t funny is a true statement, but for the first hour it really isn’t trying to be. The scenes with Goodman and Mike Epp’s returning “Black Doug” are seemingly ripped from any number of generic action thrillers, with Goodman playing his part so straight you have to wonder if he even realized this was supposed to be a comedy. On the flip side, Jeong’s Chow, having already worn out his welcome all the way back in the second film, becomes the center of attention (seriously, he might have more lines than either Cooper or Helms) and the focus of nearly every joke, each one landing with a dull thud. If only his home planet needed him, we’d all be better off.

Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis – The Campaign

August 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new comedy “The Campaign,” Will Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a career politician forced to run against naive newcomer Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis. I had a chance to sit down with the comedic candidates in Dallas where we discussed political influences, bearded judges, and what junk foods appeal to white males.

We’re there any real politicians you drew on for Cam Brady and Marty Huggins?

Will Ferrell: Well I kind of stole Cam’s hair from John Edwards–

I was going to mention that, because it looks very Edwardian.

WF: Yeah, yes. I loved how perfect his hair was at all times and I wanted that to be kind of a signature thing about Cam. In general I’m kind of that, as we’ve seen from a lot of politicians, someone who’s philandering and doesn’t really care about the day to day part of governing as they do the endgame of what I aspire to be only, which is Vice-President.

I detect a little Rick Perry in there, too.

WF: (Laughs) Could be. Could be. We were watching the debates the whole time while we were filming this.

A lot of gaffes.

WF: We saw the historic–

It made me a proud Texan.

WF: Trying to think of the three things he would cut from the Cabinet.

Zach Galifianakis: That was really good.

WF: That was fantastic.

What about Marty?

ZG: No, I didn’t really draw from anyone in particular. He didn’t have to be a politician because he was plucked out of obscurity. So he was just Marty. But I’ve done this character before for many years, basically for my father, and I kind of kept it under wraps and then I started doing him on stage and stuff. He was a character called The Effeminate Racist and then he just kind of evolved into this character.

Is not having the beard important to The Effeminate Racist?

ZG: Yeah, yeah, because when I first started doing it I didn’t have a beard. I was just a kid.

You don’t really see the beard on politicians much these days.

ZG: No, they don’t–

WF: Yeah, you don’t, really. Yeah.

ZG: Well, uh…he wasn’t really a politician but he had the…Bork.

Bork?

ZG: Not Bork. He was the judge guy. What was his name?

WF: Judge Bork?

ZG: Bork? Was that his name?

WF: Oh. You know, C. Everett Koop.

ZG: Koop was the guy I was thinking of!

WF: The Surgeon General.

Well he just had the beard. No mustache, right? He had sort of the Amish, Abe Lincoln–

WF: Abe Lincoln. Yeah.

ZG: Yeah. But who was Bork? Was that his name?

I think that’s an alien, isn’t it?

WF: He was being considered for the Supreme Court.

ZG: That’s not his name though.

WF: Okay.

ZG: Anyway, sorry.

You’re known for your–

WF: Björk? Maybe?

ZG: Yes, Björk, the Icelandic–

She gets confused with judges all the time.

WF: Yeah.

Will, you’re known for your portrayal of George W. Bush. Was it nice to jump the aisle a play a horndog Democrat this time?

WF: Yeah, yeah. It was nice to do that and to try to hopefully make a distinction between the two, even though I’ve done Bush for so long that it was hard. Sometimes I’d do some takes and I’m like, “God, that sounded just like George Bush. I gotta try to swing it back to more North Carolina.”

Say I’m a potential voter. How do you appeal to me as a white male in my 30s?

ZG: You’re white?

Some would say, yeah. That’s what I fill out on the college applications.

ZG: Hmm. Okay.

WF: I would appeal to you in terms of–as a candidate?

Right.

WF: Yeah, um…I would offer you a world rich in frozen pizza.

I can take that.

WF: And sugary soft drinks.

You’re right in my wheelhouse there.

WF: Yeah.

ZG: You’re basing that off the demographic of his–

WF: White male in his 30s.

And probably the way I look. Let’s be fair.

ZG: Man, that’s–God, you’re really good at that.

WF: Yeah. I am. That’s how observant I am.

 

The Campaign

August 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”)
Written by: Chris Henchy (“The Other Guys”) and Shawn Harwell (debut)

Let’s face it: Will Ferrell’s comedies consist of little more than skeletons of plot strung together with stretches of the actor and his co-stars hilariously improvising. Yeah, you might remember that “Anchorman” had a running plot thread featuring the birth of a panda at the San Diego Zoo or that “Step Brothers” wrapped up at the helicopter expo known as the Catalina Wine Mixer, but the things that are stuck in your head are the Channel 4 News Team’s discussing a man’s death by trident or two grown men’s creepy, child-like glee at the thought of getting bunk beds, thus freeing up floor space in their shared bedroom for so many more activities.

The trend continues in “The Campaign.” Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a Democratic Congressman from North Carolina with John Edwards’ hair and Bill Clinton’s libido. Brady coasts through Congress with one goal and one goal only: being Vice President. Okay, two goals: being Vice President and having lots and lots of extramarital sex with perky young supporters. When a sex scandal inevitably rocks Brady’s reelection campaign, unscrupulous billionaire businessmen the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) hand pick a candidate to take Brady down and further their own interests: naive local tour guide Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis.

Pitting two comedic heavyweights like Ferrell and Galifiankis against one another pays off in predictably humorous fashion. Ferrell, turning years of parodying George W. Bush on its ear, once again gives his all to the sharp, sleazy Cam Brady while Galifianakis steps away from the semi-dangerous weirdo characters that made him famous and instead plays Marty Huggins as a sweet, simple man forced to adapt after being thrust into the cutthroat world of corporate-backed politics. The film, however, would’ve worked better if director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”) would have given in more to the absurdity and less to the half-hearted political sentimentality.

Roach, best known for comedies like the “Austin Powers” series, recently dove head-first into political statement filmmaking with a pair of HBO movies: the solid “Recount” and the so-so “Game Change.” Perhaps “The Campaign” represented a happy medium to him, but the focus on heavy political issues (loss of jobs to China, evil corporate influence on elections) in the third act derail the comedy just as it starts to get sublimely whacked-out. If you’ve watched the trailers and commercials (or even early cuts of the movie) closely, you’ll notice how many jokes didn’t make it into the final film. While this practice is common in Hollywood, it’s disappointing that it seems to have been done in service to trite political statements like Congress needs people who care or that corporate agendas are ruining America.

Like a rider for a bridge to nowhere tacked on to a health care bill, the too-serious political mumbo-jumbo is annoying, but not annoying enough to sour the whole deal. Ultimately “The Campaign” delivers what is promises: big laughs.

The Hangover Part II

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”), Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”), Todd Phillips (“Due Date”)
 
Trying to top the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time probably would’ve been a difficult task for director Todd Phillips to accomplish no matter what angle he took with the anticipate sequel “The Hangover Part II,” but at least he could have done something with the least bit of imagination.
 
Instead, Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”) and Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”) have taken the blueprint of the original “Hangover” from 2009, moved the story from Las Vegas to Thailand, and hoped no one in the audience would know it was the same exact movie just with fewer reason to laugh.

Back for a second round of full-frontal male nudity and man-child humor are Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha), four best friends who take a little trip out of the country for Stu’s wedding. Stu’s fiancée Lauren (Jamie Chung) asks the boys to hang out with her little brother Teddy (Mason Lee) so he won’t feel left out.

Flash forward to the following morning and Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up in a seedy Bangkok motel. While Doug is safe and sound back at their hotel ready for the wedding, it’s Teddy who has gone missing. Searching for clues, which include a drug-dealing monkey, a severed finger, and Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) naked on the floor, the wolf pack must find Teddy before the city claims him as its own.

Lazily written and with more of a mean streak than the original, “The Hangover Part II” will indulge fans who are fine with the same jokes and set-ups of the first movie. It’s a shame Phillips and screenwriters didn’t take advantage of the free reign to outdo themselves and their first outing. But when a script is filled with punchlines you already know, there’s not much to look forward to except a few special moments with Galifianakis and his shaven head.

Due Date

November 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”)
Written by: Alan R. Cohen (TV’s “King of the Hill”), Alan Freedland (TV’s “King of the Hill”), Adam Sztykiel (“Made of Honor”), Todd Phillips (“Old School”)

We’ll give overrated director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “School for Scoundrels”) the benefit of the doubt and say his new comedy “Due Date” is a homage to 1987’s John Hughes classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and not just a raunchy rip-off. With that said, “Due Date” isn’t a lot of other things as well, primarily funny.

Yes, there are amusing moments in “Due Date.” It would be impossible to go through an entire feature film without laughing at something “Hangover” scene-stealer Zach Galifianakis does or without enjoying the darker comic situations conveyed through yet another of Robert Downey Jr.’s cynical characters.

But overall, the odd pairing of Downey Jr. and Galifianakis is far from enough. “Due Date” is nothing more than a barrel-full of cheap and obvious jokes that will hit with mainstream audiences who think the bearded one can do no wrong.

In “Due Date,” Peter Highman (Downey Jr.) is forced to travel cross country with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) when the two are somehow put on the no-fly list after a ridiculous scenario at the airport with Homeland Security.

Although he is worried he won’t make it from Atlanta to L.A. to witness the birth of his first child, high-strung Peter takes his chances with Ethan, a slouchy guy with “90 friends on Facebook…12 of them are pending” and a dream to star on a sitcom as beloved as “Two and a Half Men.”

What follows is a dim-witted road trip fastened together by scenes of Galifianakis acting as quirky as he can without the slightest bit of common sense. This might work in a movie like “Dumb and Dumber,” but not in a comedy that wants to be both stupid and sincere all in the same breath.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis have some chemistry that keeps “Due Date” from ending up a lost cause, but without a script that really drives the story forward all that’ s left are gags featuring masturbating mammals and a joke where Galifianakis’ character mistakes a sign that says “Mexico” with “Texaco.” Could the screenwriter really not get any clever than that?

Dinner for Schmucks

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”)
Written by: David Guion (“The Ex”) and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”)

It would have been torturous enough if the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” had remained truthful to its title and only forced us to sit through a single meal and maybe a couple of drinks. Instead, director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers” trilogy) extends the idiot-filled evening into a collection of unbearably tacky scenarios that might have worked better as an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Sure, it’s obvious certain things need to lead up to a dinner with a bunch of sad-sack morons, but what Roach and screenwriting partners David Guion and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”) come up with makes the hilariously daft “Dumb and Dumber” feel like a thinking-man’s movie.

Cast in the least of these cartoonish roles is Paul Rudd. Rudd plays Tim, a bottom-feeding analyst in the corporate world who sees an opportunity to climb the totem pole when his company fires one of their top executives. When Tim makes an impression on his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood) by introducing the company to a potential billionaire client, Tim is invited to attend a top secret dinner held every month for the company big wigs.

At these dinners, executives are asked to bring the strangest guest they can find so he or she can be insulted throughout the night. While the idea goes against Tim’s strict moral code, he decides he can’t pass up a chance at a promotion especially now that his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is at the brink of finally accepting his marriage proposal. When she finds out about the dinner, however, she isn’t pleased.

The schmuck himself comes in the form of Barry (Steve Carell), a normal-enough looking guy whose remarkable qualities come from his taxidermy work. Basically, Barry stuffs dead mice, dresses them in costumes, and places them into dioramas for display. Barry calls his creations “mousterpieces.” Although Tim finds his odd hobby disgusting, he also sees it as a way to impress the execs and invites Barry to his dinner for dummies in hopes of landing a corner office.

Barry, however, misunderstands dinner plans and shows up at Tim’s apartment a day early. This is where the botched comedy of manners begins as Barry manages to muddle up Tim’s life in less than 24 hours. He starts by inviting Tim’s psycho one-night-stand to his apartment and continues by talking Tim into thinking Julie is cheating on him with a ridiculous artist (Jemaine Clement of TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”). Who knew schmucks could be so influential?

Like Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniel’s Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber,” Barry lacks an awareness of his idiocy, but does so less convincingly. In “Dumbe,r” when Harry thinks Aspen is located in California, it’s funny. In “Schmucks,” when Barry drags out a joke about believing Tim invented the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” it’s not. Even if someone could be that clueless, “Schmucks” begs us to have sympathy for these characters and learn something from the mean-spirited narrative.

At times unbearable to watch, “Dinner for Schmucks” is disguised as a movie with profound life lessons about friendship and acceptance. If you really get swindled into believing this comedy has heart, please raise your hand. There’s this dinner I’d like to invite you to.

Youth in Revolt

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”)
Written by: Gusten Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”)

It’s common knowledge in most Hollywood circles that when making a movie (indie or otherwise) where the script calls for a soft-spoken, insecure character with a heart of gold the actor on top of most people’s lists would be Michael Cera (followed closely by the fidgetiness and nervous rambling of Jesse Eisenberg).

While Cera’s style works rather well in most cases like in “Superbad” and “Juno,” it would still be interesting to see what he could do out of his comfort zone. How much longer will he be able to pass for a dweeby teenager anyway?

His newest comedy, “Youth in Revolt,” isn’t the breakout role some of us might be looking for, but it’s a nice transition piece that could expose him to some dimension. It’s ironic that a role like this also does the exact opposite and pigeonholes him into what we already know he’s good at.

In “Revolt,” which is adapted from the epistolary novel by C.D. Payne, Cera plays Nick Twisp, a shy high school kid who listens to Frank Sinatra and is mystified by the opposite sex. Still, he’s a sweet, old soul who wonders why “in the movies the good guy get the girl and in real life it’s the prick.”

With nothing better to do, Nick goes on a spontaneous vacation to a trailer park with his mother (Jean Smart) and her loser boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). While there, he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the girl of his dreams who is culturally aware of all things French and would think Nick was much cooler than he really is if he’d just show a little backbone.

He gets the chance when their fling ends and both realize the only way they can be together is if they can pull off an intricate plan. Part of the mischievous plot is for Nick to get himself kicked out of his mother’s house. To do this, Nick creates an alter ego named François Dillinger (also played by Cera), a rebellious little punk with a pencil-thin mustache, blue eyes, and sharp tongue. Basically, François is the man Nick wishes he was because he’s the type of guy Sheeni could go for without hesitation. François, however, become more trouble than anticipated when he turns Nick into a fugitive.

This is where Cera breaks out of his usual mold and shows us something different, but not entirely unconventional to where one might think he was trying too hard. François puts Nick on edge and gives Cera a great character to explore alongside another that basically comes naturally to him at this point. The identity crisis works well as his battling personalities match wits. Cera alone has it in him to push the adapted material well passed a month most would deem as a cinematic dumping ground.

Surprisingly, “Youth in Revolt” is a rarity for early new-year releases. With filmmaker Miguel Arteta (“Chuck & Buck,” “Star Maps”), who has been making solid albeit small films for the past 12 years, the journal entries of one Nick Twisp are a creative and amusing journey about what it means to be at an age where the world begins and ends with whether or not you have the ability to grow facial hair.

G-Force

July 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bill Nighy, Will Arnet, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Hoyt Yeatman (debut)
Written by: Cormac Wibberley (“National Treasure”), Marianne Wibberley (“Bad Boys II”), Ted Elliott (“The Legend of Zorro”), Terry Rossio (“Déjà Vu”), Tim Firth (“Confessions of a Shopaholic”)

Hear that laughter? There might be a few children in the audience who are easily-entertained by the antics of the fluffy computer-generated guinea pigs that star in the new family adventure “G-Force,” but most of the giggling is coming from producer Jerry Bruckheimer as he strolls all the way to the bank.

As unbelievable as it is, the producer, who is known mostly for mindless action flicks like “Armageddon” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” has found another way to fill his pockets all while releasing projects with the entertainment value of a rusty jack in the box. Earlier this year, Bruckheimer jumped genres and released the subpar romantic comedy “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Now, it’s on to live-action/animation with “G-Force.”

It’s true, Bruckheimer has been down this avenue before, but a computer-generated kangaroo really didn’t do well for him in 2003’s box office and critical bomb “Kangaroo Jack.” In “G-Force,” he and first-time director and visual effects icon Hoyt Yeatman (he won an Oscar for “The Abyss”) shrink the heroes into cuddly rodents with “Mission Impossible” tendencies. Did we mention it’s in 3-D?

The story follows a group of secret agent guinea pigs – voiced by Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, and Penelope Cruz – who try to stop an evil home appliance industrialist (Bill Nighy) from taking over the world. Zach Galifianakis plays the FBI agent who trains the furball trio and the rest of the team, which includes Speckles the Mole (Nicolas Cage, who does some nice voice work) and a housefly named Mooch. Galifianakis, the star of the surprise summer hit “The Hangover,” however, is wasted as is the rest of the human cast. All are lost in a pointless script that relies on stale pop-culture references most kids won’t understand. And don’t say those references are there so parents in the audience don’t go crazy from boredom. If the mental well-being of moms and dads was really a concern, the rest of the movie would’ve at least tried to be entertaining for someone above the age of five.

While the guinea pigs themselves are impressive in terms of quality of graphics, the five screenwriters who churned out “G-Force” don’t give them much to do or say other than the basic action-star drills, stereotypical dialogue, and more than occasional act of flatulence. Guinea pigs were just so much cuter when they were voiceless pets who slept most of the day.

The Hangover

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“Old School”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) and Scott Moore (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”)

If you were to make an educated guess on which director could get close to recreating the type of comedy Judd Apatow has become famous for over the last four years, Todd Phillips’ name would not be near the top of that list. With popular albeit pointless comedies like “Road Trip,” “Old School,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” it’s never been Phillips’ forte to reach for anything that resembles cleverness. (Crotch pancakes, yes, witty dialogue between two main characters, not so much).

Maybe that’s why for his newest film, “The Hangover,” Phillips takes a step back and relinquishes his screenwriting duties to a couple of young scribes who also have a history of unimpressive comedies (“Rebound,” “Four Christmases,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). Why take two lumps when you only have to take one, right?

The funny thing is, for whatever reason, the Phillips-Lucas-Moore combination works oddly well when Phillips isn’t pretending he’s still working with Will Ferrell and actually buys into the idea that less is always more. It doesn’t always happen in “The Hangover,” but the mostly unknown leading men keep the raunchy comedy from going into Tom Green-mode. And while it’s considered a dark comedy, it never crosses the line into the abyss like 1998’s “Very Bad Things,” another Las Vegas-based bachelor party movie.

As unbalanced as “The Hangover” is, actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis manage to keep the story grounded most of the time even when they’re running amuck in Sin City trying to find the friend they lost the night of his bachelor party.

When soon-to-be-groom Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is no where to be found the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, his best friends Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) and his awkward, grizzly-like future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) attempt to sort though the clues left throughout their trashed suite and locate Doug before his wedding in two days.

Evidence of their wild night, however, only leads them to more questions. Why does the valet driver think they are police officers? Why is Stu married to a stripper (Heather Graham)? How the hell does former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson know who they are? It’s all very mysterious in a sort of silly way until the third act when the whole misadventure slowly wears out.

Nevertheless, there’s still a shockingly hilarious pay off just when you think “The Hangover” can’t dig itself out of its dark-comedy hole. Add to that a strong dynamic between the three main leads and Phillips has suprisingly given us his best work to date.